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How many calories should I eat per day?


How do you know how many calories you should consume in a day? The answer depends on several factors: gender, age, activity level, metabolism, current weight, and goal weight. In this Health Alert we will explain how to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR).


The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you need to maintain it. That's why men usually need more calories than women, younger people more than older people, and active people more than sedentary people.


Age robs you of muscle. Beginning at age 45, the average person loses about 10% of his or her muscle mass (1/3 to 1/2 lb) each decade. This muscle tissue is replaced with fat, which burns far less calories than muscle. Also, your metabolism slows down as you age, so your body requires fewer calories.


That's where activity comes in. Exercise can speed metabolism, burn fat, and increase muscle mass. It also lets you eat a bit more without adding pounds as well as helps you to lose weight without starving.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlines three activity levels to help decide how many calories you should be getting:


Sedentary: Lifestyle includes only light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.


Moderately active: Includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, or 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, in addition to daily activities .


Active: 60 or more minutes a day of moderate physical activity in addition to daily activities.


To determine calorie intake, dietitians use a formula known as the Harris-Benedict principle to assess a person's basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy your body needs to function while at rest.


Step 1: Calculate Your BMR.

  • Women: 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
  • Men: 66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)


Step 2: Adjust for Activity

  • If you are bedbound: Multiply your calculated BMR by 1.2 If you are sedentary: BMR x 1.4
  • If you are moderately physically active (some planned exercise/ walking most days): BMR x 1.5
  • If you are very physically active: BMR x 1.6

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Last Updated October 27, 2011.

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